Mark Hughes in the frame for Sunderland job after Martin O’Neill’s shock sacking
SUNDERLAND have drawn up a four-strong shortlist as they move quickly to appoint a successor with just seven matches to go and their future in the top-flight in serious danger.
Mark Hughes is understood to figure on that shortlist along with Brighton manager Gus Poyet, who recently turned down the chance to take over at Reading, and Gianfranco Zola, although he would be difficult to prise away from Watford. All three are former Chelsea players - and Chelsea are Sunderland’s next opponents next Sunday.
Whether Sunderland can persuade any of the trio - and especially either of the two Championship managers, whose clubs are in the play-off positions - to take over remains to be seen, which suggests they may have another candidate already lined up. The speed of O’Neill sacking, and given there are so few games to go, would also suggest they are confident a successor can quickly be appointed.
The bookmakers last night installed former England and Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren as favourite to take over and he, like Hughes, spoke to Sunderland before O'Neill was appointed in December 2011. However he is not, at present, believed to be a contender.
Last night Sunderland released a brief statement placing “on record its thanks to Martin” and stating that an announcement on a successor would be made “in the coming days”.
Club owner Ellis Short will oversee the appointment as he desperately tries to turn around the team’s fortunes.
Hughes was sacked by Queens Park Rangers earlier this season with the club bottom of the table, and without a league victory after he saved them from relegation the previous year. It remains to be seen whether he would be interested in the post as he is in no rush to return to management.
O’Neill was appointed on a three-year deal, after 16 months out of the game following his departure from Aston Villa, amid hopes the boyhood fan of the club would be the ideal fit to turn around its fortunes. After taking over from Steve Bruce, the Northern Irishman led Sunderland to seven wins in his first 10 fixtures to ease the threat of relegation.
But it proved to be a false dawn. Sunderland have struggled since then - O’Neill’s win ratio is just 29 per cent - and have collected just three points from their last 24 as the club slid towards relegation. He lasted just 15 months.
On Saturday night, following the 1-0 home defeat to Manchester United, Sunderland lay in 16th place, just one point above the relegation places having played a game more than some of their rivals.
O’Neill’s case has not been helped because he has been backed so strongly in the transfer market by Short with a number of his expensive buys, including £10 million for Adam Johnson, £5 million for Danmy Graham and £4 million for Alfred N’Diaye, have failed to make an impact. Only £12 million signing Steven Fletcher, who is currently injured, has been a success.
Short had expressed his confidence the side would be able to establish themselves as a top-10 team, but it has been a constant struggle during this campaign.
In his programme notes for Saturday’s game, Short expressed his unhappiness with Sunderland’s plight but also called for unity. But that patience quickly ran out after the defeat.